Ms. Stanicuaski, there are fewer women in management positions in the natural sciences at universities and research institutes worldwide than one would expect based on the proportion of female students. They think that discrimination against mothers is to blame. What does an academic work environment look like that treats mothers fairly?

Frauke Zbikowski

Editor in the "Science" section.

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We need a profound change in our scientific culture: academia must recognize and respect that life and career paths are different. Flexibility, especially with regard to mothers with small children, is an essential part of this. This also means that engagement and productivity can show up differently than in the number of publications, that success stories are not always straightforward. A truly fair academic environment takes into account the demands placed on mothers, provides support such as on-campus childcare, flexible working hours or mobile working, promotes understanding of the situation of parents. This goes beyond superficial commitments to diversity; the institutions must actively promote it.

As a professor of molecular biology at the University of Rio Grande do Sul, you founded the "Parent in Science" network after having children of your own and experiencing all the difficulties that mothers face at universities. What kind of obstacles did you encounter? And are they particularly high in Brazil?

They are similar to those in many parts of the world: there is a lack of support mechanisms, there are no strategies to keep mothers in universities, and there are hardly any opportunities for women to continue a career with children. There is often a lack of funding for research or scholarships for re-entering the workforce. In addition, the commitment of mothers and their abilities are often questioned.

"Parent in Science" has been in existence for six years now. What have you achieved during this time?

The work of our initiative has been instrumental in ensuring that regional and national policies in Brazil and with mothers in science and research are addressed. This can be seen in improved working conditions, more opportunities for financial support and more career options for female scientists with children. We are a driving force behind the positive changes that make mothers' experiences in science more valued.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were setbacks in gender equality: women were forced to take on more childcare tasks and publish less. Has that changed again?

The pandemic has been a major blow to the fight against discrimination. The scientific community has not yet fully recovered from this, despite some progress. But a lack of publications, in particular, will continue to influence career paths for a long time to come. Especially when scientific institutions declare the consequences of the pandemic to be over and ignore the difficulties for mothers that have arisen from it, there is a risk that inequalities will become permanently entrenched.